Dealing with Depression During the Holidays

depression during the holidaysDealing with depression is never fun. I mean, really: never. But it can especially un-fun during celebratory times like the holidays. Add in Seasonal Affective Disorder, and everything is extra special fun because the time of year is against you, too. So on this happy note, let’s talk about dealing with depression during the holidays.

  • Treatment:
    • First and foremost, make sure you’re receiving the treatment you need. Schedule regular appointments with your healthcare provider, including a mid-autumn check-up if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.
    • Follow through on treatment instructions, including obtaining and properly taking any prescription or over-the-counter medication, scheduling and participating in therapy sessions, purchasing and using light therapy equipment, etc. Believe me: I know this seems like a lot to handle, especially if your depression is not fully controlled at the moment, but you’ll feel better once you do all this.
    • Enlist the help of supportive friends or family members to run errands or hold you accountable for taking the steps you need to take to receive and participate in your treatment.
  • Take time during this busy season to care for yourself.
    • Carve out time to do something that helps you feel relaxed and positive.
    • Get moving! I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times, but exercise—even just walking—will help you feel better.
    • Don’t be afraid to decline invitations. If you think that attending an event will sap your reserves, or you’re simply not feeling up to going, go ahead and respond no to the invite. If the host is someone you’re close to, let them know what’s going on. Depending on how you’re feeling, you can even propose a more low-key one-on-one visit for another time.
    • Whatever amount of sleep you need to feel good, well-rested, and refreshed in the morning, make sure you’re getting it.
    • Treat yourself. Comfy new PJs, a fun accessory or outfit for a get-together, and new cooking tool for the kitchen, a book, a cup of coffee—hook yourself up with whatever little thing makes your heart happy.
    • Do your best to make healthy food choices. I know the holidays are a great time to enjoy delicious once-a-year specialties and you should definitely do that! Just be sure to balance your not-so-healthy party noshing with healthy foods the rest of the time.
  • Keep your expectations real.
    • Every year, I convince myself that the holidays are going to be warm and fun and joyous. And every year, I am horribly disappointed in the fact that I’m not nearly as happy and full of joy as I think I should be. So I was honest with myself and my husband and I let him know how I was feeling. I talked about how, even if I’m inwardly happy, I’m not going to be squealing with joy (not even the year he surprised me with a trip to Disney World!). I don’t have to worry about disappointing him—or myself—because our reality won’t match our expectations.
    • Be honest with yourself about what you can expect from yourself and from others. Your family isn’t the type to have a stereotypically joyful holiday gathering? Don’t lie to yourself and hope or expect that that’s what you’ll experience when you know darn well you won’t.
  • Don’t gorge yourself on social media.
    • Yes, keeping up with friends and family via social media is awesome. I love it because it allows me to keep in touch with people and be part of their lives even when I can’t muster up the energy for a phone call, email, or visit. But. Remember the quote/saying that goes around: Don’t compare your outtakes to someone else’s highlight reel? We have a tendency to look at other people’s social media pages and assume that their life is as awesome as their pictures and status updates indicate. Funnily enough, this is true even when we know I have a friend who posts such fun adventures on her Facebook page and Instagram feed! I know, though, that like many of us she also struggles with a toddler and a strong-willed kindergartener, and sometimes the struggle just ain’t pretty. Yet I still find myself looking at her photos and feeling bummed that my life “doesn’t compare.” Because depression does this tricky thing where it (constantly and intrusively) points out all the things wrong with you and your life, it can make this tendency to compare our lives to someone else’s social media life even worse. The holidays can be a good time for a social media fast—or at least to cut back on how much time you spend on checking your accounts.
  • Use the buddy system.
    • If there’s an event you want to go to—especially one that will cheer you up and help you connect with others—but you think you’ll be likely to bail because of your depression, make plans to go with someone else. Arranging to ride with someone or accompany them to an event means you have someone who can help hold you accountable for showing up.
    • Talk to a couple close friends or family members. Ask them to get in touch with you if they notice you’re withdrawing. Invite them to be honest with you and tell you if they notice your symptoms returning. (My husband usually notices something’s off well before I do.) It’s often recommended that people dealing with depression reach out to others, but in my experience, that can be a step too far if you’re feeling depressed. I like the idea of reaching out before you start feeling bad, when you still have the stamina and energy to do it.
  • Watch your money!
    • Do you tend to self-medicate with shopping? No judgement—I totally feel you! Even if you’re not usually a “budget” person, set and stick to a budget for the holidays, especially in areas where you tend to overspend: gifts for others, clothes, food, whatever your weakness is.
  • More treatment.
    • Even if you head into the season with your depression under control, don’t hesitate to contact your health care provider if you notice (or someone points out) that you’re going from a mildly blue Christmas to the depths of despair. Even with the most supportive network in place and lots of self-care, if your brain chemicals are off, or you’re struggling with a recent loss, or a news event hits you really hard, you’ll need professional help to get back to feeling okayer.

I hope that you have a calm, stress-free, peaceful, and maybe even happy holiday season. Take care of you!

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Christina lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, daughter, and two English Springer Spaniels. Before becoming a reluctant stay-at-home mom, she worked in a variety of customer-service-oriented jobs while dreaming of living in the lap of luxury as a housewife. Unfortunately, having a child threw a wrench in Christina's plan to do nothing but eat bonbons while lounging in the Jacuzzi reading all day. Now, she spends her time looking for fun activities and crafts for her daughter and easy-to-prepare meals for her family, while trying not to land the kid in therapy when she grows up. Christina volunteers at several different places, and her particular passion is for her role as a sexuality educator. She loves to read, and to learn about--and share--new products and resources.

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